Female farmers survive a challenging year

“It is not how successful our business can be as the bottom line. The bottom line is how successful our business can be and support our employees’ families and our community,” said Afton Darnell Roberts. “I believe that comes from being a woman and understanding all that goes into a job and your work life.”

Afton farms in Swain County on family land going back generations. Her father always encouraged her and told her, “This is a woman’s world. You can accomplish anything.” She helps manage a thriving, diversified farm business while meeting the needs of her staff and consumers during COVID job loss and market uncertainty. Darnell Farms launched a home delivery program to meet the demand of folks wary of shopping and who may be homebound.

Resiliency is being able to recover from tough situations, says Tarinii Isner. Tarinii and her family are in year four of their new farming and botanical business, LionPaw Botanicals. Vegetable and botanicals sales were planned for the spring market at the North Asheville farmer’s market. Due to COVID, new vendors were not able to join the market due to space restrictions.

Kims Pharmacy advertisement

Fortunately, Tarinii already had an online sales platform and is a respected local educator. She continued to produce her botanical blends and expand hemp production while finding resilience in her farming and educational work. She points to a historicly male-dominated agribusiness model, where women, the wives, often had a small patch of land for home vegetable and herb production. This was the place of family resilience, offering to heal of homegrown foods. She continues to teach and shares plants’ heritage from the African diaspora now at home in Appalachian farms and gardens today.

Patricia “KT’ Taylor of KT Farms has been working on her orchard and apiary throughout COVID. She is also a full-time nurse. Her husband Tate, while ‘retired,’ works with her on the 11.5-acre apple orchard in Haywood County. COVID has not affected her business model, and her farm offers families the opportunity to be outside in a healthy environment during this trying period.

KT’s chef Jasmine is a mother of three who appreciates the flexible hours and creativity of KT’s kitchen operation as they test new recipes such as fire tonic, balms and lotions. As part of her plan to retire from nursing, KT is adding new products to her mix and will soon start producing apple cider vinegar in her on-farm kitchen. One of KT’s joys is to sell apples to the Swain and Haywood County School systems.

Both KT and Afton have led their farm companies into new directions bringing additional women on board to diversify their production and distribution. Tarinii hosts women’s groups on the farm offering a safe space for personal growth.

“We are planting seeds of spirit and in the earth,” she said.


out fr1

Fall is always a colorful time of year at Darnell Farms in Bryson City. Donated photo


Darnell Farms employs many women working in all production stages from tractor work, sales and running the new home delivery program.

“We have at 3 to 1 ratio of women to men on the farm,” Afton said. She knows women-run businesses are more compassionate by nature. Part of the Darnell Farms experience is the farm stand, picnics by the river, a swing set for the kids, hayrides and live music. While these activities have slowed down in the time of COVID, Afton still encourages families to come out to the farm stand, order from the window, park, enjoy the river’s natural beauty and let the kids run.

These farmers have experienced the challenge of being recognized as capable business people when seeking advice or funding from traditional sources. Lenders can be difficult to work with.

“If I did not go to the bank with my husband for that first loan, the process would have been harder for sure,” Afton said.

She shared that she knows women farmers who have to take legal action to be treated fairly by lenders and other agencies. KT has seen a shift in funding from USDA programs such as the Farm Services Agency.

“It has definitely gotten easier; the USDA wants to support women and minority-owned businesses, so our applications can get a better review than in the past,” she said.

KT said it took years for suppliers and advisors to take her seriously. As her orchard has grown and her hard work has paid off, she sees more respect coming her way, but it was hard to come by. Regional apple meetings are attended mostly by male farmers. Some bring their wives, but KT observed they did not participate in the meetings.

“When I first walked into the apple meeting and started asking questions, the men in the room did not give me much credit,” she said. “Now that I have proven this is not a hobby, and I am busy making this business grow, my voice is heard.”


out fr4

Tarinii Isner works at her family’s farming and botanical business, Lionpaw Botanicals. Donated photo


Tarinni said as a woman farmer, it is sometimes hard to be seen, but she feels that because she loves what she is doing, the knowledge she offers comes shining through, creating the source of credibility. She is offering other women a reminder of their inner resilience and strength. Women have the capacity to restore and heal the land of the community through the relationship to growing food.

Women have farmed in Western North Carolina for centuries. These farmers are continuing the tradition of resiliency in hard times and supporting other women and our families in the process.

Women-owned farms in the region are on the rise. The 2012 Agriculture census shows 51 women farmers in Haywood County, home of KT’s Orchard, and 9 women farmers in Swain County, where Darnell Farms is located. The 2017 Census identified 274 women farmers in Haywood County and 55 in Swain County. In Madison County, women farmers have increased from 33 in 2012 to 379.

(Laura Lauffer is the Project Director of EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems)


out fr3

Patricia Taylor, also a full-time nurse, has added new products to her operation, including making her own apple cider vinegar. Donated photo


Support local, eat well

Even in the cold season, there are plenty of ways to support local farmers. Next time you’re hungry, stop by one of these great farm stands to stock up on fruits, veggies, preserves, crafts and more. 

Haywood County

• Barber Orchards Fruit Stand, located at 2855 Old Balsam Road in Waynesville, sells apples galore and more through the end of its season Dec. 24. 828.456.3598.

• Christopher Farms, located at 2266 Crymes Cove Road in Waynesville, is open year-round save for Sundays and Christmas Day. 828.456.3010. 

• Duckett’s Produce is open through Dec. 19 with plenty of autumn produce at 6160 Carolina Boulevard in Canton. 828.648.7096.

• Sunburst Trout Farms offers locally raised trout as well as a variety of other local foods through Sunburst Market at 314 Industrial Park Drive in Waynesville, with online ordering also available at www.sunbursttrout.com. 828.648.3010. 

• Ledford Farms has a roadside stand open year-round at 190 Fines Creek Road. 828.593.7042.

• Owl Produce Market & Farm sells farm-fresh products at 889 Asheville Highway in Canton. 828.593.8545.

• Presnell’s Produce Market offers a variety of farm products and handmade eats at 6209 Crabtree Road in Clyde. 828.627.0440 or www.presnellsproduce.com. 

Jackson County

• The Jackson County Farmers Market brings vendors together year-round, with winter hours 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through March at Bridge Park in Sylva. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

• Mountain Fresh Produce, located at 8195 U.S. 74 West in Whittier, is open daily. 828.497.4268. 

Swain County

• Darnell Farms is offering drive-through produce pickup at its farm stand at 2300 Governors Island Road in Bryson City, as well as online ordering and deliveries to communities within 35 miles. www.darnellfarms.com or 828.488.2376.

Macon County

• Deal Farms operates a produce stand at 4402 Murphy Road in Franklin and also offers online shopping. www.dealfarms.com or 828.421.4992.

• Winding Stair Farm & Nursery offers food, flowers and festive decorations at 57 Saunders Road in Franklin. www.windingstairfarm.com or 828.359.997

• Otter Creek Trout Farm sells fresh fish, eggs, local honey and more at 1914 Otter Creek Road in Nantahala. 828.321.9810.

• Yonder Farmers Market offers local and regional foods as well as handmade goods at 151 Hillcrest Avenue in Franklin. 704.605.6919 or www.eatrealfoodinc.com.